How New Stability went from dad shoe to chill
“For a long time, if you went to Middle America, the only people you’d see wearing New Balance were middle-aged dads,” says Tom Henshaw. The lifestyle marketing director’s frank admission is even more potent when you consider that most of New Balance’s sportswear brand rivals – including the big two, Nike and adidas – have historically been puritanical about appealing to the youth demographic.
Fast-forward to 2022, however, and the typical New Balance wearer couldn’t look more different, with a roll call of famous faces including actor Timothée Chalamet, musician and businesswoman Rihanna, and supermodel Bella Hadid rivalling diehard dads in the Midwest. The brand’s surprisingly broad church appeal is by no means lost on the team behind it, who even paid homage to its OG dad shoe status in a 2019 campaign for its classic 990v5 trainers. In a nod to the editorial-style campaigns it became known for in the 80s, the print ads were emblazoned with a series of grabby taglines including: ‘Worn by supermodels in London and dads in Ohio.’
While Henshaw admits the revitalisation of New Balance’s dad-approved aesthetic is down to a lot of street-level adoption by consumers, he also believes the brand’s authenticity has played a big part in its renaissance. “That’s not necessarily all been engineered by us as a brand and as marketers, [but] I think being self-referential, not taking ourselves too seriously, and understanding the consumer [means] we know how we’re perceived,” he says.
Top: Promotion for Jaden Smith’s vegan trainer, Vision Racer, created in collaboration with the brand; Above: A 2019 campaign for the 990v5 trainer
Tracing New Balance’s journey to becoming one of the hottest brands of the moment goes all the way back to 1906, when it was founded in Boston as the New Balance Arch Company and made arch supports for walking shoes. The company moved into the growing sports shoe market in the 30s, but by the late 60s it had dwindled in size to just six employees. It was acquired in 1972 by entrepreneur Jim Davis who, along with his wife Anne, rebuilt it by tapping into the huge emerging interest in jogging. Still privately owned today, it is the only major sportswear company to still make products in the US, where around four million of its shoes are made or assembled.